Burnley Civic Trust Heritage Image Collection


Education in Burnley Eighty Years Ago (1850s)

Burnley News July 12, 1919

The short visit which Mr. Thomas Healey has been paying to his native town of Burnley provides a fitting opportunity to recall the remarkable successes which that gentleman achieved both as a student and teacher at the Burnley Mechanics' Institution, when it was the recognised educational centre of the borough.

Notwithstanding his long residence in London, extending over half a century Mr. Healey retains a deep love for his native town and in particular the Mechanics' Institution, which he acquired the foundation of those educational attainments which formed the basis of his very useful and successful career.


Mr. Healey attributes his success in life, under God's blessing, first to having been taught at an early age to read, which enabled him to gratify an insatiable thirst for reading everything that came in his way, from the 'London journal' to Shakespeare and Milton: and, secondly, to the instruction he received and the associations he formed at the Mechanics' Institution. Of his first school he has but an indistinct idea. It was a room up some steps in Gas-street, where at the age of four, a man taught him and few others, to read. His next school was in a two roomed cottage in Vernon-street. The teacher was a stout, infirm, elderly man, a pensioner or something of that kind. He lived and slept in the upper room, and Mr. Healey's most vivid recollections concerning him were of his velveteen-sleeved waistcoat, with mother-o-pearl buttons, and his spectacles, usually worn on his forehead. The school fee was two-pence per week. The subject of this sketch was about five years old at this time and attended the Primitive Methodist School on Sundays. He was next removed to St. Peter's School, where the headmaster was Mr. Grant. The fee paid here was also 2d. and the instruction given was the best in the district.


In consequence of a change of home, young Healey soon found himself at another National School, Sandygate, where the fee was the same as at the last school, though the instruction given was much inferior. The clergyman was at constant variance with the master, who was changed three times during his attendance of six months. Afterwards he went to St. James's School, but remained there so short a time that he scarcely remembers anything of it. He then went for a few months to a Congregational School and was subsequently removed to a private seminary kept by one of the dismissed masters of his fourth school, a Mr. Carns, who was well known in the town. The fee was either 2d or 3d per week. In his ninth year he began to attend S. Mary's Roman Catholic School, the church at that time being in course of erection. The teacher was a certain Mr. Simon Brown and said, Mr. Healey, this is the one school for which I still have what you would call an affectionate remembrance. It was well known that I was a Protestant, but there was not the slightest attempt to proselytise. I remained here for a little over a year, the fee being 3d per week.


When about ten and a half years old he was sent to a private Baptist school, where the fee was 6d, as he was considered a first-class boy. After leaving he was kept at home for about a year as a general servant, to assist in looking after the younger children. For many months during his supposed attendance at the last two schools Mr Healey confesses to having spent the weekly fee on 'Reynolds' Miscellany' and other such publications. When he did this he tramped about during the day, returning home at the usual hour to prevent suspicion. At the age of twelve his school education was considered complete and was sent out to work. When about fourteen or fifteen he entered the classes of the Mechanics' Institution, where he remained first as a pupil and afterwards as a teacher, for some ten years. The diligence with which he pursued his study was attended with remarkable success, and there are few, out of the thousands of students who passed through the Mechanics, who have in one year equalled the distinctions gained by Mr. Healey.


The following is an extract from the report of the Directors for the year 1865:- "The distinguished success of one of the candidates, Thomas Healey, demands separate and especial notice. To him
the Department of Science and Art have awarded, for Elementary Mathematics, a first-class Queen's Prize, with gold medal, which is given by the department for special excellence only. The Society of Arts have awarded to him the Theory of Music a first class Certificate with first Prize, value 5 pounds; Animal Physiology, a first class certificate with first prize, value 5 pounds; Electricity and Magnetism, a second class certificate, and Geometry a third; and in addition the Society has awarded him His Royal Highness the Prince Consort's Prize of 25 guineas, given to the candidate who gains the greatest number of first class certificates in four consecutive years. The Directors of the Institution felt that such remarkable merit called for special recognition. A resolution was therefore cordially adopted, in which they commended his great application and heartily congratulate him on his well-earned and high success, by which he had not only acquired fame for himself but honour to the Institution in which he had studied. In his acknowledgment of this resolution, he modestly states that he is indebted for his present social and intellectual position to the privileges of his Institution, of which he has been a member ten years."


Following on his remarkable success as a student, it is not surprising that the Directors of the Mechanics appointed Mr. Healey to the teaching staff when he was 19 years of age. About this time Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth (the father of Lord Shuttleworth), who was a well-known educationist, propounded a scheme under which was formed the East Lancashire Union of Mechanics' Institutions, and which was intended to promote popular education. The people of today did not realise how much popular education owed to Sir James. Sir James succeeded in obtaining government assistance for his scheme, and also the support of many institutions and liberal minded gentlemen in the district including Mr. Farrar Ecroyd. Under this scheme a professional teacher was appointed at what was regarded in those days as a fair salary. Previously the instruction had been sporadic, and dependent on someone like the late Mr. Henry Houlding or Mr. Chris Slater, who were both enthusiastic honorary teachers at the Mechanics and the memory of whom Mr. Healey dearly cherishes. The Department made a grant towards the payment of assistant teachers who had to satisfy official requirements by passing an examination held by of H.M. Inspectors of Schools. Mr Healey was appointed assistant teacher at the Mechanics and taught in the classes from 1859 to 1866. In April, 1866, he accepted a position in the Department of Science and Art offered by the education authority in London, and when he was obliged to retire in 1900, owing to failing eyesight, he held the important post of Official Examiner in Science.


Mr. Healey is a member of a family which has rendered splendid service in Burnley and in musical circles the name of his grandfather, Mr. Thomas Healey, on whose monument at the Cemetery was inscribed the words "Father of Burnley Musicians," is still held in fragrant memory.

Healey Memorial in Burnley Cemetery